Tomáš Sedláček: Economics of Good and Evil

Tomáš Sedláček: "Economics of Good and Evil", Oxford University Press, 2011

Is economics really value-free or is it also about moral values? Tomáš Sedláček, economist and provocative thinker from Prague, on the "Economics of Good and Evil", for which he garnered the Deutsche Wirtschaftsbuchpreis 2012 (German Business Book Award 2012).

Sedláček examines the roles of work and economics in ancient cultures, religions and myths which continue to influence us today. He analyses the irrational preconceptions which prevail in modern economic thinking. Sedláček's book is a fascinating peregrination through the world of economics – taking us from the epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament and Adam Smith to Wall Street and the economic crisis.

When examining the Old Testament, Sedláček infers "the first-ever business cycle" from one of the Pharaoh's dreams. Joseph interprets the ruler's dream of fat and lean cattle as a warning that years of drought are to follow and consequently prescribes an austerity programme for the Pharaoh in order to stave off a famine. To Sedláček, this dream is a good allegory for our current economic situation. Times of plenty could be used to build up reserves for leaner years rather than for racking up more debts.

In passing, we are told why the language of economics – mathematics – is not simply neutral but actually rather appealing and even seductive. Sedláček admonishes us to remember that there is more to economics than mere figures and purely numerical descriptions. He views Man not only as the reasoning homo oeconomicus, but also as the feeling homo narrans, who shapes his own world by recounting stories about it to himself and to others. Addressing a panoply of complex issues, Sedláček takes the reader on a riveting ramble through the history of culture and political thought as applied to the world of economics.

Archdeacon Zoran Andrić, Munich